A significant challenge for organisations is to ensure that lessons are learned and that mistakes of the past are not repeated. Both the knowledge and project management literature suggests that the lessons learned process in practice rarely happens, and when it does it is usually concerned with lessons identification rather than organisational learning taking place. It appears that there are limited models for management to use to conceptualise what organisational learning is and therefore how to enable it. This paper describes how a Systemic Lessons Learned Knowledge (Syllk) model (a variation of the Swiss cheese model) can enable project organisations to conceptualise how they can learn from past project experiences and distribute successful project know-how across an organisational network of elements such as learning, culture, social, technology, process and infrastructure.
Wiring an organisation with knowledge/lessons learned
It has been shown by the action research cycles and highlighted during the reflection stages, that the identified Syllk model facilitators and barriers need to be well understood and managed for effective wiring of an organisation. Understanding organisational facilitators/barriers and the associated KM practices and tools offers an opportunity to reflect and learn from past experiences (Kotnour and Vergopia, 2005).
The findings from the action research provide evidence that an organisation can be wired for knowledge/lessons learned. Figure 3 is an example of how the Syllk model works enabling the executive and senior management to conceptualise how organisational know-how is wired across various systems of an organisation for knowledge/lessons learned. The highlighted knowledge variables of the Syllk model elements shown in Figure 3 were found to be the most dynamic for the organisation participating in the action research. The action research outcomes showed that an organisation is not a simple structure but a complex interweaving (through the Syllk elements) of people and systems.
The knowledge/lessons learned know-how commences with learning where storytelling and storytelling skills come together. The knowledge or skill of telling a good story is in the heads and gestures of employees and those who have the skill should be acknowledged and identified and those that need the skill should be provided with a learning and development toolkit and training courses. To be good at storytelling, we need an effective organisation culture. A storytelling culture needs to be seen and felt across the organisation. This comes through in the conversations (and actions) from senior management as they demonstrate that they believe sharing stories, exchanging ideas, building relationships and communities is important and they fund (within reason) activities that enable it. Having a strong link to organisational objectives as part of a cultural renewal strategy to improve communications by creating more opportunities for leaders to connect with their teams, strengthen communication networks and increase employee consultation. The cultural message is, we think there is significant value in sharing stories and anecdotes about our experiences, and we are going to make time for that activity. Social is where the organisation invests in social structures that enable knowledge and lessons learned to take place. These might be regular or periodical communities of practice meetings, storytelling forums, special interest groups and social media (yammer) sub-groups. There might be other structures such as lunch and learn sessions (lunch box talks) or team meetings. A technical x-change forum is not going to just happen, it requires all the other elements to align and work together.
Technology is needed to help facilitate the knowledge/lessons learned know-how and in this organisation a web intranet portal and Yammer platform met the needs. Technology provides a knowledge library home, a communication medium, links to process/templates, links to where knowledge can be found in the organisation and learning development tools. The process helps to embed knowledge/lessons learned through strategic initiatives and the provision of a framework, process and templates. The use of best practice directories, lessons learned reviews and building performance evaluation forums works well in this organisation. Identifying that learning happens before, during and after and that reflection activities have a major impact on learning. Having the infrastructure in place enables and facilitates open and frank knowledge sharing. Without the physical space for valued and open (remember our cultural values and beliefs) to take place, all the other activities will go to waste. Without high-quality intranet accessibility and availability, the knowledge/lessons learned sharing medium will be affected. There is a need for management support, experts and leaders to enable the learning, culture and social elements.